Allison, Force, Hight - Ford interview 2010-08-24

This Week in Ford Racing August 24, 2010 Transcript from today's Ford Racing teleconference featuring Jamie Allison, John Force and Robert Hight. The 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Championship Countdown to 1 is scheduled to begin next weekend at...

This Week in Ford Racing
August 24, 2010

Transcript from today's Ford Racing teleconference featuring Jamie Allison, John Force and Robert Hight.

The 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Championship Countdown to 1 is scheduled to begin next weekend at the US Nationals in Indianapolis. Five Ford Mustangs are primed and ready to take on the competition for the final six races of the season. The Ford Mustangs competing for the championship this season include 14 time NHRA champion and No. 1 seed John Force and 2009 Funny Car champion and No. 2 seed Robert Hight. Force and Hight were joined by Ford Director of North America Motorsports, Jamie Allison on a Ford Racing teleconference today to discuss the Countdown to 1.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE ALL FIVE OF THE FUNNY CAR DRIVERS COMPETING FOR THE 2010 FUNNY CAR CHAMPIONSHIP?

JAMIE ALLISON: "First, I'd like to open up and say Ford Motor Company is the envy of any company in the entire world when it comes to motorsports. We are so fortunate and so blessed to be affiliated with John Force and the entire team of John Force Racing. John is a man of excellence, a man of passion and a man with a lot of depth and affinity and love for Ford and everything we do. We are very blessed. In terms of what is going on this season, one of the reasons we're all here, and John can tell you more about it, is because of the 'One Ford' approach. It was an opportunity to come to John and see if we can reach out to and strengthen all the Ford Funny Car teams including up and coming driver Bob Tasca and veteran Tim Wilkerson. By bringing all the teams together under 'One Ford' in terms of where Ford Motor Company extends technical support. John is a man who's really, really loved and has a lot a passion for Ford, listened to what I had to say and was able to support to the extent that he can. I'm very pleased and very happy and I want to give a lot of credit as well to the John Force Racing engineers and also the Ford Racing engineers who've worked with the team on the chassis development, on safety as well as the Ford BOSS 500. To have five cars out of the 10 cars be Ford Mustangs, just shows the depth of the field, the talent of the Ford drivers and how blessed we are to be affiliated with the best in the world."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BEING THE NO. 1 SEED HEADING INTO INDIANAPOLIS NEXT WEEKEND?

JOHN FORCE: "I'm excited, most of all that all the Ford teams made the Countdown -- [Bob] Tasca, [Tim] Wilkerson, Ashley [Force-Hood] and Robert Hight, the reigning champion and myself. What I'm most excited about is we did it on a budget in a tough economy. It was Ford Motor Company under the leadership of [Alan] Mulally with [Mark] Fields and [Jim] Farley and [Ken] Czubay, the guys that came to us and said, 'Number one, we're going to race and we're going to win. But we've got to do this on a budget,' because Ford wasn't going to take any money from the government, they weren't going to take stimulus money and we had to look at their example. They gave me a year to organize my team to everywhere that I could cut. I went to that and I went to the team players and we worked together because it's not good to take a cut and then you still can't deliver and that was my biggest fear. This all started taking place at the end of '07 and into '08. Through that process, working with Jamie Allison and Ford Racing and how we build our budgets, where we could still delivery -- the proof is in the pudding. We haven't won the championship, but we're in the lead. Robert won the championship in '09, so we knew that we were headed in the direction. We made changes cutting our testing programs and we had to give up a team in 2010, but we did it the same way Ford did, making tough choices. I kind of structured it the way Ford Motor Company did, because it was something when a guy like Mr. Fields or Mr. Farley or Mr. Czubay would talk to me, which when they're on top of the food chain to sit with a guy like me and tell me what they're doing and the direction they're headed with Ford. If I wanted to work with them, I could be long range, but I still had to deliver. I worked with them -- the changes in budgets, but I was given extensions that moved out four, five years and kept me in the game long range. At the end of the day, we've got to survive this economy in the next two, three or four years and I'm going to be able to do that with the help of Ford and the other sponsors that we worked out similar programs. What I'm excited most about is, we delivered. I'm never going to guarantee a championship, but under the way we work together and that we're all 'One Ford' team, that was most important. It was a strategy that really challenged and changed my way of thinking that we could share information with Tasca and Wilkerson. The key was my shop that I created in Indy, that built the Ford BOSS 500, together with the Ford engineers and my engineers, that we developed motors, that I was able move, sell product to the other Ford teams, share technology and work together where it helped the Tasca team, it helped myself and I could make a profit and still run against the competition. Right now in this economy, even with budget cuts, I'm on top of the world. I'm excited and I came back. In the last three years since my crash in '07, my car was not a hitter; it was not in the game. With the help of Robert Hight and my daughter and the team around me and living in the gym, I'm back in the game. John Force Racing along with Ford Motor Company, we have put the numbers on the board, the wins, and have delivered. Now, we're going to see if we win a championship in the Countdown."

ONE YEAR AGO, YOU WERE IN THE 10TH SPOT IN THE COUNTDOWN HEADING INTO THE FIRST PLAYOFF RACE. YOUR TEAM CAUGHT THEIR STRIDE LAST YEAR DURING THE COUNTDOWN? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO THE COUNTDOWN IN THE SECOND POSITION VERSUS 10TH?

ROBERT HIGHT: "I'm definitely excited about going into the Countdown this year. Last year, [I] just barely made it and I still really believe we owe that to John Force and his making a lot of changes with our team right at the end before the regular season was over. He shuffled things around, it got the crew chiefs' minds right and we went back to basics. We used the 'One Ford' approach and got all the cars on the same page and working together and we carried that philosophy into this year. John moved Mike Neff around, put him in charge over there. They basically duplicated our Auto Club Mustang and as you can see the first 17 races, John and my car, we were just winning four races each and ended up one point apart. I think we learned a lot. It's all about the 'One Ford' approach. That one point also makes us think that in the next six races, every run we make, every qualifying run, there's points available and we have to make the most of everything if we want one of these Ford Mustangs to win. I still owe it to John Force for making all of this happen and shuffling people around and making the right calls. We also have the 2010 Ford Mustang body that I believe is definitely more efficient aerodynamically. John and Ashley have both gone 316 miles an hour this year, so we owe a lot to them and their engineers for giving us the best equipment to go out there and compete with. I've been in finals at the last four Indys so I'm looking forward to going back to Indy this year. We're going to do a little testing later this week there and hopefully these Ford Mustangs come out swinging."

FORD MOTOR COMPANY HAS RAISED ITS PROFILE IN NHRA HAVING BECOME THE OFFICIAL VEHICLE AS WELL AS INCREASING ITS PRESENCE IN PRO STOCK AND SPORTSMAN CLASSES. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON HOW NHRA FITS INTO THE MOTORSPORTS STRATEGY OF FORD RACING?

JAMIE ALLISON: "We at Ford are involved in all forms of motorsports from NASCAR to NHRA to Rally to sports car racing and everything in between. But when it comes to NHRA, we believe NHRA itself stands alone and has unique audiences, even within NHRA -- there's people who follow Funny Car, there's the Pro Stock program and there's all the sportsman class, where the Cobra Jet runs. We're very excited that we're able to reach multiple audiences, different fans and different enthusiasts all within NHRA. Two, our research shows that NHRA fans are extremely brand loyal. Our research also shows that over half of NHRA fans are John Force fans. When you're affiliated with John Force, you have a big leg up reaching out to people who love Ford, who love cars and who love going fast. The third thing is, we all know when you follow sports and you follow motorsports, you follow winners. You want to be affiliated with somebody who is a winner. Obviously, when it comes to NHRA, when you're dealing with the Champ and you're dealing with The King, when you're dealing with the one and only John Force and all that John brings with him -- with Ashley Force-Hood, Robert Hight the reigning champion, Bob Tasca -- up and coming driver, and Tim Wilkerson, winner of races himself. We are affiliated with proud drivers who are at the top of their field, who are winners, which makes our fans very excited and happy to be affiliated with Ford. Last is Ford Motor Company knows that within the NHRA community, there's a lot of do it yourselfers in the enthusiast world and that's why we're involved in our Customer Service Division; where Motorcraft and Quick Lane are prominently showcased on the Tasca Funny Car. All in all, we are so blessed and very lucky because we have a rich history when it comes to NHRA where it is our relationship with the Tascas, Bob Glidden and more recently John Force and the extended Force family. We're on top of the world and we're looking forward to a great season as we enter the Countdown. And as John said, we're going to let the next six races speak for themselves and I hope it foretells how the first 17 races have gone."

YOU HAVE HIGH STAKES DECISIONS WITH RACING, SPONSORS AND YOUR TEAM. DOES IT TAKE A SPECIAL PERSON TO DEAL WITH THESE HIGH STAKES?

JOHN FORCE: "I was a truck driver in the early days out of school. I really had no education. I kind of learned it in the streets and just dealt with honesty. I knew the people I dealt with and looked them in eye and I could tell where they were coming from; and you either believe or your don't. That is the feeling I get working with Ford engineers and people that I trust to help build race cars to protect my drivers. The directions we had to go and the decisions that I made, but I've really evolved with the brain trust around me; when you've got Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, Jimmy Prock, Mike Neff, Dean Antonelli, Robert Hight -- the people in the field. Robert is in Indy testing a motor for NHRA. We're trying to help NHRA cut costs, how to build a safer car and that information the Ford engineers they'll look at. NHRA will look at it, PRO will look at it and we're just trying to find a better way, if we work together, we can make it happen. I'm the kind of guy that always listens to people around me."

HAS THE YEAR AFTER YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP GONE THE WAY YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD GO?

ROBERT HIGHT: "Yeah and more. The most I had ever won in a season was three races and we have already won four this year. At this point last year, we hadn't even been in a final. We were very optimistic as the 2010 season started, hoping to start off where we finished last year. We have done that. We have eight wins with Team Force. That is pretty awesome. We didn't have that many the whole year in 2009. We have to put all that behind us now. What matters is what we do going forward. If we stay together as a team and work together, help each other like we have always done in the past then I believe our chances are good. You are never going to predict a championship but I am very optimistic."

WITH YOUR TEAMS BEING SO SUCCESSFUL THERE WILL PROBABLY COME A DISCUSSION ABOUT TEAM ORDERS. ARE YOUR DRIVERS FREE TO RACE YOU HEADS-UP DURING THE COUNTDOWN?

JOHN FORCE: "My drivers are free to race me. I wouldn't have it any other way. I told Ashley that if you are going to win a championship, you have to prove you are the best. I said that to Robert too. I want to prove that I can come back; you know what I am saying? I won in 2006 and I crashed in 2007. We only lost the championship by one round with Robert Hight in the lead, but I wouldn't let him go to some races at Houston because we had to redevelop that car and the Ford engineers were pulling double time to make that happen. We didn't win the championship, but we came back and we won. It was Robert Hight that won, not John Force. Ford won and every sponsor won because every sponsor is on every car. My wife wants her daughter to win. My daughter wants her husband to win and ole' John Force wants to win. Tasca wants to win and so does Wilkerson. We all fought to make the Countdown and we are going to fight this thing out to the end, you have my word on that."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF KICKING THIS THING OFF WITH THE US NATIONALS. IT IS ALMOST A WHOLE WORLD TO ITSELF, YET IT IS THE LEAD OF THE COUNTDOWN. HOW IMPORTANT WOULD IT BE FOR YOU TO GET A WIN THERE?

ROBERT HIGHT: "This is biggest race we have all year long. This is the grand daddy of them all. We've all had good luck here. It was exciting racing Ashley in the final last year. It doesn't get much better than that, to have two Force Ford Mustangs in the final. Don Garlits once told me that because I had won Indy I could retire now. I want to win championships though. I want to win more Indys and more championships. This is a great place to start the Countdown and we have had good luck there. We are going to test there this week and I think that will help. The US Nationals start out Friday night, one run under the lights and you have got to get that run in and you have got to be quick. You are going to see less than a tenth of a second from number one to number 16 in Funny Car at US Nationals. Every run counts. It is an exciting time for us. Next week we have an all Ford car show at the shop in Indy, an open house to kick off the US Nationals. It is going to be very busy the next week and a half for John Force Racing."

IS A SIX RACE COUNTDOWN TOO SHORT COMPARED TO WHAT NASCAR DOES WITH TEN, OR DO YOU FIND THIS IS A GOOD TEST TO SEE WHO IS THE CHAMPION?

ROBERT HIGHT: "I think six is a good deal. We are going to have some hot conditions and some cool conditions in October. I think we have a mix of all the different conditions. I think it is a great thing. We proved last year that if you are in the top 10, you can win it. It is all about timing, having your act together and getting your combination right. You also need some luck along the way. It was unfortunate that last year we had to race Ashley three times in the Countdown. It was always in the semifinals or late round. She was right there. That even makes it more fun for us, when it is our own teammates we are battling. If I could draw a script right now it would be John, Ashley and I as the only three with a chance to win the championship."

JOHN FORCE: "You know one of the issues on the Countdown, the whole idea that NHRA was trying to do was a great idea. I know NASCAR is taking a hit and I love NASCAR, I was watching it over the weekend, but they have taken a hit. They have big crowds, much bigger than us. We haven't taken that big of a hit this year. It is really interesting that the reason for the Countdown was to keep people in the seats. There were years that I had the championship wrapped up by Indy or Dallas and it was like, why do people want to go if they already know who won? It was almost like it didn't make sense at first. Now they have programmed it and I think that six races are enough because in a Countdown, you could have a couple of bad races because you have bad rod bearings. If you have bad rod bearings and you can't find the problem, you can get snake bit. To only have three races didn't make sense. If you have bad luck or bad parts now, with six races, you have a chance to recover. It is going to be the best and luckiest guy in the overall picture that could win. I have three cars that run consistent every week, so do Tasca and Wilkerson. At the end of the day, we have pretty good odds of a Ford winning this championship."

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DECISIONS YOU HAVE TO MAKE AS A CHAMPION?

ROBERT HIGHT: "I have had a good teacher in John Force. We are surrounded by really good people at John Force Racing. We all made decisions collectively as one big team. Everybody works together and some of the decisions John has to make, I don't envy him a bit. Having to drop a team last year, that was a big deal, but he made it work. We now have three quality Ford Mustangs. I believe we may have been spread a little thin, but now we have the best of everything with the same people working together in this organization. I am still trying to learn the business and just work with the team every day."

-source: ford racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Bob Glidden , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Austin Coil , Mike Neff